Appalachian family fights to keep pet lion
MELVIN, Ky. - To the Collins family, the 400-plus pound beast with a thick mane and daunting eyes that paces in its 300-square-foot chain-link cage is "Kitty," their beloved pet lion.
To others in this small Appalachian town, Kitty is a frightening menace. And they want county officials to ban animals deemed "inherently dangerous" by the state.
If the county ordinance passes Friday, Kitty will no longer be allowed to stay in this rural neighborhood, where homes are separated by just a few yards.
"I think it needs to be in a different environment," said Pauline Hall, who lives three houses from the Collins family. "Everybody here keeps their guns loaded."
Barry Collins bought Kitty three years ago, when it was a 5-pound cub at a flea market. He said he got a state permit to bring the lion into Kentucky and a license to keep it in Floyd County.
The Collinses said all their pet purchases were a way to save the animals from harm or abuse.
"If I can save one I will," said, Collins' wife, Melissa.
The Collinses said they were caught by surprise when the ordinance was proposed, and will appeal a ban if approved. They said they've heard a handful of complaints since they brought the lion home, but nothing serious.
"He's not bothering nobody," Barry Collins said.
When asked whether Kitty is inherently dangerous, he said any pet can behave unpredictably and that he doesn't feel the lion is a threat to his boys, ages 5 and 1, or 3-year-old daughter.
A state regulation that prohibits transporting animals the state has labeled inherently dangerous, such as vipers and lions, can't help neighbors who want Kitty booted.
The Collinses, who owned dangerous animals before the rule went into effect in July, are allowed to keep them, said Laura Patton, a state wildlife biologist. Bringing in more dangerous animals or breeding the ones they already have is still against the rules.
No state law deals specifically with ownership of exotic wildlife, she said.
The only way to kick Kitty out is with a county ordinance, said county attorney Keith Bartley.
"I'm sure it is a big pet to the owners," Bartley said, "but the one time something goes wrong with a cat that size, someone's going to be really hurt or dead."
Barry Collins said he may put up a privacy fence that would give Kitty more space to roam if the county ordinance fails. Bartley said he's working with a local veterinarian to find a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary where the lion could be placed.
"If they love that lion, I don't believe they'd want it to live its entire life in a dog cage on a concrete pad," Bartley said.
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